Choosing the right co-founder

Posted by: Team Outlander

Posted on 02/22/2022

Choosing the right co-founder

When it comes to choosing a co-founder, I’ve learned there’s no hard and fast path to success. In fact, I think most entrepreneurs would agree that finding and choosing an excellent co-founder is more of an art than a science. That being said, below are some tried and true ways to set yourself up for success.

Hang around the hoop

Before we even begin discussing what to look for in a co-founder, we have to talk about how you find potential candidates in the first place. My best advice to entrepreneurs has always been to hang around the hoop. For those of you who aren’t basketball-fluent, the phrase means that to have any success, you’ve got to put yourself in the best position to score—around the hoop. Your hoop is anywhere good talent might be found: meetups, conferences, pitch competitions, Slack channels . . . you get the idea. Colleges are also great resources; you can reach out to computer science professors and leaders of student entrepreneurial and innovation clubs. If you have a good idea, can tell a story, and talk to enough people, the odds of finding folks who might be interested in joining your venture are in your favor.

Look for complementary skills

This may seem like a no-brainer, but people frequently get it wrong. Many founders are drawn to people with professional backgrounds similar to their own because they already speak the same language or because they’re often in the same spaces. While it’s certainly important to gel with your co-founder, it’ll benefit you a lot more, down the line, to have someone whose strengths differ from your own.

The most common example of this is the classic nontechnical–technical co-founder pairing. The combination has many upsides because it lets the two individuals focus the bulk of their attention on different aspects of their start-up’s growth and success. But let’s say you already have a solid CTO and aren’t necessarily looking for a technical co-founder—what then? Find someone with complementary soft skills. If you’re not a stellar presenter, choose someone who can wow a room of investors. If you’ve mostly worked in silo-style roles across your career, seek out someone with team-leading experience. It’s more than OK to duplicate a similarity here and there (after all, you want to have some common ground to fall back on), but being aware of your own weaknesses and finding a way to address them with your choice of a co-founder is wise.

Get input from leaders you trust

Let’s say you’ve got a few people in mind as potential co-founders but you’re not sure how to evaluate them for fit. A few years ago, I was in exactly that position. I felt like I was on a hamster wheel and desperately trying to get off. I realized that determining whether a candidate was a good fit was much harder than I had expected. At the time, I was subleasing office space from an EO Atlanta member. He’d been an entrepreneur for almost two decades. I regularly talked with him about things I was trying to figure out, and those informal conversations were invaluable. When I told him about my problem, he made an amazing offer: “How about I interview one of your candidates and you sit in? I can show you better than I can tell you.” I happily agreed. I was able to watch him in action, and I learned a ton—especially about how to figure out when someone isn’t the right fit.If you and your potential candidates are having conversations or doing things together to get to know one another, consider inviting someone to join you—perhaps an experienced entrepreneur. If you’ve raised capital from credible investors, consider getting their input, too. Whomever you ask to join you, make sure they have a track record of evaluating talent or some experience with entrepreneurial partnerships. Your goal is to have them compensate for your blind spots.

These three recommendations won’t drop the perfect co-founder into your lap, but they will help you whittle your options down to a few strong front-runners. At the end of the day, selecting the right person comes down to who you feel that difficult-to-describe “click” with when you’re sharing your vision. Choosing an excellent co-founder isn’t an impossible task, and it certainly is an important one when it comes to building a company that will succeed under your and your co-founder’s leadership.

For more expert advice on building and scaling your startup, check out our event library and Field Notes.

Team Outlander

Jermaine Brown, Investor + Startup Advisor


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